NEW YORK – Fans of Bill Clinton (search) lined up outside bookshops from Arkansas to New York to snap up copies of his autobiography, giving the former president's words the same rock star treatment he often enjoyed while in power.
Although Tuesday was its official release date, promotion for the book truly began in early June, when Clinton was the keynote speaker at BookExpo America, the publishing industry's annual national convention. He has since been interviewed by "60 Minutes," Time magazine and the British Broadcasting Corp., among others.
"It's a historic moment for me," said Margaret Woods, a Manhattan billing consultant who stood in a line of about 100 people outside a Barnes & Noble (search) near Lincoln Center that began selling the book at midnight Monday.
Alfred A. Knopf has given the memoirs a first printing of 1.5 million. Mary Ellen Keating, a spokeswoman for Barnes & Noble, said she expected "My Life" (search) to be the best-selling presidential memoir in the company's history.
"It's like adult Harry Potter mania. We haven't seen anything like this since J.K. Rowling came here," said Michael Link, a bookseller for Politics & Prose, a Washington-based store.
The Books-A-Million store in North Little Rock, Ark., stayed open late and staged a party with trivia contests that drew about 80 people. Those who attended also could sign up for a later drawing giving them an opportunity to have their book signed by Clinton.
Although initial reviews have called the book self-serving and dull, Garry Caldwell, 54, of Sherwood, Ark., said he wanted to read "My Life" to better understand Clinton's political legacy.
"I believe in listening to both sides of the argument and making up my own mind," he said. "I think he was a good president — I think he could have been one of the best presidents except for the scandals."
On Monday evening Clinton was the guest of honor at a book party at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Close to 1,000 people filled the Great Hall, including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, actress Lauren Bacall, folk singer Judy Collins, comedian Al Franken, recent presidential candidate Al Sharpton and TV personalities Barbara Walters and Paula Zahn.
Bill Clinton joked that he worked on his memoirs so long that although he received a reported $10 million advance, "by the time I finished this book I was just about down to minimum wage."
Clinton's political opponents already are taking on the former president. Citizens United, a conservative lobby group, purchased advertising time during Clinton's Sunday night interview on "60 Minutes" and accused him of failing to fight terrorism. Rush Limbaugh has said the book should be called "My Lie."
But the promotional tour itself reflects Clinton's well-documented fondness for pleasing all sides. Over the next month, he will visit independent booksellers, chain superstores, black-owned stores such as Harlem's Hue-Man Bookstore, and price clubs such as Costco.
Reviewers haven't been kind to "My Life."
The New York Times, in a front-page review Sunday, panned Clinton's 957-page book as "sloppy, self-indulgent and often eye-crossingly dull." Newsweek called it "hardly an edge-of-your-seat experience." And The Associated Press said it was a "badly conceived, flatly written, poorly edited book."
Bob Wietrak, a vice president of merchandising at Barnes & Noble, said reviews will "absolutely not" affect sales. "People are buying this book because they want to know what he says, not how he says it," Wietrak said.
With advance orders already topping 2 million, Clinton's book, which runs from his Arkansas childhood through his presidency, appears guaranteed to justify his advance and outsell the memoirs of his wife, who received $8 million.
According to her publisher, Simon & Schuster, Sen. Clinton's "Living History" has about 2.3 million copies in print, including both hardcover and paperback editions.
Pre-orders for "My Life" have tripled over the last week at Barnes & Noble and also increased by double digits for Borders, even though the Borders discount for the $35 book dropped from 40 percent to 30 percent for orders made after June 14.